Dale K. Brown
“THE WORLD TOMORROW”
From his teenage years on, Herbert W. Armstrong’s self-stated ambition was to become wealthy, powerful and a valued cohort of both rich and famous alike. As a means to this end, he went into the advertising business, counting on it to fulfill these altruistic ambitions. God, however, perverse joker that he is, threw one monkeywrench after another in the young man’s path, curtailing his career at every turn. The fact that the nation was still in the midst of a severe economic depression, or that the lad might have been slightly inept at his chosen occupation, had little or nothing to do with the his initial and subsequent failures. As he would later tell the story from the pulpit, it was God, and God alone, who was responsible for the sabotage.
Failure after failure, however, finally forced him to re-evaluate his life and goals, and to his shock and dismay he began to see himself for what he truly was, to see himself through God’s eyes (as he would later become fond of saying), and he fell to his knees in abject prayer before the Lord of Hosts, realizing at last, what a wretched, despicable, revolting piece of scum he truly was. He repented on the spot and determined that, from thence forward, he would dedicate his life to telling everybody else that they were, too.
Where to start was a daunting prospect, however, for there seemed to be an unusually large number of people out there who had no desire to hear this good news. He began to search for God’s true church. His initial attempts to find just the right one were complicated by the fact that there were so many faiths to choose from. A cursory examination of their dizzying variety of beliefs led him to hypothesize that, even from a purely parochial point of view, they couldn’t all be right.
It would hardly do to worship the Lord of Hosts in an imperfect manner, of that he was sure. One must be painstakingly precise when worshiping an entity so unpredictably prone to wrath and violence as the God of the Bible. After many more prayer-filled nights and studious days, God, according to Herbert, began, bit by bit, to make Holy Truths (many of which had been prophetically sealed for centuries) known to his chosen servant.
To start with, ninety-eight percent of the churches worldwide were irrevocably and unquestionably pagan. Parishioners attended services on Sunday (when they attended at all), whereas the true day of rest and devotion was Saturday. This revelation, quite naturally, narrowed the field of likely candidates considerably.
Herbert and his wife, Loma, thus, began attending the Church of God Seventh Day. For awhile, it appeared that they had, at last, found their niche. Herbert was soon ordained an elder and, later, actually began to preach at times to the local congregation which was modestly growing. Thorny doctrinal issues began to arise, however, as more newcomers swelled the, hitherto, rather stagnant ranks of the organization so, heeding the biblical admonition that wisdom is to be found in a multitude of counselors, a council of twelve was appointed to look into and render judgment on all controversial matters of scriptural interpretation. Herbert, unbelievably, was not among the twelve.
He promptly tendered his resignation. After many more days and bitter nights of prayer, fasting and soul searching, God revealed to him that this, too, was part of his divine plan and that, in fact, Herbert was “a chosen and consecrated vessel prepared from before the foundation of the world to usher in that final era of God’s great work on earth,” which Christians the world over had long looked forward to. Toward this end, he was commanded to start a new church based on the faith once delivered to the Saints.
Due to the rather shaky financial predicament of God’s chosen vessel, this awesome ministry began humbly, in the 1930’s in a ramshackle, one room Oregon school house. The first parishioners were a small circle of friends and a few neighbors.
Due to continuing deficiencies in the holy cash flow of the enterprise, the little flock was, almost immediately, made aware of a providential revelation concerning tithing. God had commanded, they were told, that ten percent of their gross, unadjusted incomes, which included the crops from their gardens, all firstborn male sheep, cows and goats (and anything else fit to eat, drink or wear), were to be handed over to the ministry, forthwith.
God continued to reveal additional “mysteries of the kingdom” to Herbert W. at a breath taking pace as more of those chosen from before the foundation of the world were added weekly to the congregation.
Due to the requisite increase in tithes, offerings, livestock and dry-goods brought on by increased membership, fasting became less of a necessity. Herbert was able to purchase state of the art communications equipment, a mimeograph machine, to spread the good news far and wide. Soon after that acquisition, he was able to buy time on a local radio station. Hundreds, thousands and, by the late fifties, tens of thousands were thus able to hear Herbert’s spiritually uplifting message, as inspired by God, that humans were, individually and collectively, selfish, gluttonous, disgusting swine, fit only to be damned, char broiled alive and trampled under the holy feet of the righteous (whoever they might be), and that he, Herbert, stood before the door to eternal life, holding it open just a crack, so that those whom God had truly called might slip on through.
As time went on, the fledgling church grew to such an extent that a name, differentiating it from all the other called and chosen religious entities of the day, became an absolute necessity. After much prayer and goal-specific fasting by the entire congregation, the inspired name of “The Radio Church of God” was selected (this remained the divinely inspired name from the 1940’s through to the 1970’s, when God, unaccountably, changed his mind and re-inspired his faithful servant to convert its name to “The World Wide Church of God”).
Herbert now possessed sufficient funds to “give himself over completely to the ministry.” He studied day and night often uncovering, in the wee hours of the morning, new biblical truths that other religions had either missed or ignored.
Many of the first born were astounded to learn that, irrespective of their diverse ancestral heritages, they were all Israelites. A thorough study of history and the Bible made that plain. America, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Ireland, and Holland were, in fact, the lost ten tribes of Israel. Herbert had discovered their “Roots!”
Furthermore, even though Christ had returned, was crucified and died for everybody’s sins, no one, in fact, was yet forgiven. One had to earn that free gift by living one’s life according to a strict code of conduct, which was being constantly updated by Herbert.
To begin with, those traditional religious holidays celebrated by a majority of Christian churches were an absolute abomination in God’s (and Herbert’s) sight. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween were pagan festivities of a most idolatrous sort. They were, primarily, Babylonian in origin and had been adopted as a recruiting inducement by that great harlot in Italy, the Roman Catholic Church, in a nefarious attempt to corrupt and deceive biblically unsophisticated masses the world over. However, all was not lost; God had provided suitable replacements in lieu of Sunday and the holidays.
The Sabbath, all were taught, was the beginning. For this was the day, their theology had it, that God, after creating the entire universe in one week (6000 years ago) had settled down to rest and admire his handiwork. On that day, all Christians were to do likewise. A problem arose for some of the called at this point since, having never created universes themselves the previous week, they really had nothing to rest up from.
Herbert’s Idea of a properly kept Sabbath bordered on an egregious violation of America’s constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Sabbath began, in his estimation, at sundown on Friday. From then on, until sundown Saturday, no form of activity outside of reading Herbert W.’s private interpretations of the Bible was permitted.
On the big day, the called and chosen bestirred themselves from their mild mannered walks of life, donned such formal attire as they were financially capable of affording after taxes, tithes and obligatory offerings, and strode forth to become the future masters of the universe.
A rented hall was God’s chosen arena for their weekly metamorphosis, tastefully furnished with the most uncomfortable fold out steel or wooden slat chairs humanity had, at that point in time, been able to devise. And it was here that they sat, while Herbert preached, for three or four hours at a whack.
By the nineteen-fifties the organization, thanks largely to the technology of radio, had grown and spread to many cities throughout the northwestern United States and Canada. Herbert, despite his awesome calling, had discovered that he could not be everywhere at once. New teachers of the way were desperately needed so, with an abundance of tithes and offerings in his pocket, he started Ambassador College, his own private college of theology in Pasadena, California. Its mission would be to turn out a ministry steeped and indoctrinated in the gospel according to Herbert.
The curriculum at AC, as it came to be called in shorthand, was simple. The entire universe was six thousand years old. Modern science was all wrong (and was, in point of fact, inspired by that wily old serpent, Satan the Devil himself), as were the concepts and practitioners of modern medicine, dentistry and, especially, psychiatry. If one had faith (and was nearly as perfect as Herbert), God would cause all one did to prosper. If one had faith, one would be supernaturally protected from all manner of evil and attendant maladies… except mental illnesses. These were, and remained to its final days, in private church theology, at any rate, the products of either self-deception or demon possession.
If one had the faith! That was the catch. And it couldn’t be just a smidgin of faith, either. Anyone who expected results had to have it all (and what an escape clause for the new ministry). There were actually members who, during after-services counseling sessions, were overheard to complain, “But I tithed the (by now) thirty percent of my gross income to the church. I’ve given offerings (freewill and otherwise) amounting to another twenty percent. Income taxes ate up an additional twenty-five percent and I’m having a hell of a time feeding my fruitful bough and our four young olive plants on the twenty-five percent which remains. Why hasn’t God provided for me?” “BECAUSE YOU LACK THE FAITH, BROTHER!”
As with Sunday, Christmas, Easter, and all the rest of contemporary Christianity’s holidays were, the brethren were told, pagan. They were, in fact, satanically inspired counterfeits of God’s true Holy Days. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, the first of these, “Joyful Occasions” began in the spring.
The order of service on all Feast Days (except the Day of Atonement) involved a three hour morning sermon, a two hour break at around one for the actual potluck feast, then another three or four hour sermon(contingent, of course, upon the stamina of the preacher and the sanitary preparation, storage, and handling of the food) in the afternoon; replete, as per divine command, with an obligatory freewill offering.
As holidays go, it was a poor substitute for Christmas. Furthermore, the mandated omission of any and all leavening agents (from which the feast derived its name) precluded the inclusion of bread, rolls, biscuits, cake and pies, at least any that would have been visually or gastronomically identifiable as such by the average person. Of course, there was (and usually remained to the end of the Feast) copious quantities of unleavened bread. But this was because no mortal human could possibly choke down more than a couple mouthfuls per millennium.
To be fair, this was not lost upon the ladies of the congregation whose God-given responsibilities included (but were by no means limited to) all meal preparations and clean-up. It was their job, after all, to concoct these boot leather offerings.
The problem was that year after year of trying and failing had done nothing to dampen their zeal. They were unwilling to admit defeat. Theirs was a holy quest, this search for an edible unleavened bread. It existed; it was out there somewhere and they would find it.
Pentecost was next in that hierarchy of joyful occasions which, one was assured, made up for forsaking the vile practices of the world. At least though, at this one, the chosen weren’t required to deal with weird foodstuffs. Just the usual five to seven hours of hell-fire and brimstone coupled with the traditional afternoon empty-your-wallet ritual.
The Feast of Atonement was unique, however. So much so that even hard bitten disciples occasionally wondered (in private at any rate) just how it came to be called a feast in the first place. To start with, no one was allowed to eat or drink anything from the sundown preceding the feast to the sundown following. Brushing ones teeth was even frowned upon during this period as the temptation to ingest a little Pepsodent and water might well prove nigh overpowering. There was, however, no shortage of “Spiritual Meat” at this festivity.
The famished brethren (and their equally famished children) were obliged to sit through and digest a typical Atonement Day sermon, the subject matter of which always reflected the meaning of the hallowed day itself and thus changed little with the passing of the eons.
On that day, one and all were reminded just where it was sin came from. And, that, since Adam had sinned, all had sinned. Transgressions were geometrically progressive in this version of theology and any hope one might have had for a merciful deity overlooking even the most microscopic of their transgressions were dealt a low blow at these proceedings.
As humans, they were God’s children; no doubt about that. But they were also carnal, filthy and totally depraved. They were, they were told, worthy only of a screaming death in that great Christian barbecue coming soon to worldly neighborhoods everywhere. And it didn’t matter how good they had been, were now, or ever tried to be(or for that matter if they’d never committed a single sin in their entire life.) They were liable for Adams screw ups as well.
For some neophytes, Atonement was the last feast they chose to attend; it was, as those still righteous were wont to say, that day of days which separated out the sheep from the goats. The multiple tithes and offerings, the giving up of Christmas and Easter, the being thought of as odd(if not positively insane)by such relatives and friends as one had prior to conversion, that the weak in faith could handle. But to have to sit all day with their stomach thinking their throat was cut, to hear the incredible “Good News” that their souls were in hock for the sins of people who had fucked up and died centuries before, well, that was damn near intolerable.
The Atonement Day sermons invariably offered a ray of hope, however, (for some, admittedly, too late) and always toward the end. If, (and it was a big IF) the brethren were as good as they could possibly be; IF they dutifully obeyed those omnipotent twenty year old shepherds of the flock which Herbert had been cranking out of Ambassador College at a frantic rate to keep up with the growing demand for ministers; IF they faithfully set aside that all important thirty percent of their income then maybe, just maybe, they would be accounted worthy to escape the coming Great Tribulation that God was about to mercifully unleash on his stubborn, stiff-necked, unrepentant world. And they might qualify, at last, to slide on through that crack in door to eternal life that Herbert was holding open just for them, Amen.
The faithful, by Atonement services end, were worn to a frazzle. It was tough enough(even for the unquestionably righteous) to have to sit for hours and listen to what hopeless pieces of shit they were, but to have to do it on empty stomachs, while suffering from the debilitating effects of rampant dehydration, that was torture.
Brotherly love was always at a low ebb on this day. The called and chosen simply gathered up their Bibles, kicked their kids into line and headed for the door.
That there was no one to stand in the middle of the pathway to the refrigerator five minutes before the sun went down and say, “Drivers, start your engines!” was just as well. For the instant the sun had set, the jackals descended. They gulped down jugs of brown sugar KoolAid as if it were the nectar of the gods, while insanely cramming handfuls of potato salad into ravenous maws. They devoured cold fried chickens whole until, at last, the feeding frenzy abated and all that remained were empty jugs, greasy bones, and upset stomachs outraged by the abrupt introduction of food where once was void.
Many of God’s children, at this juncture, were heard to utter what was, perhaps, a congregational-wide sentiment, a benediction of sorts for the day, “Thank God we only have to do this once a year!”
Last, in the annual series of blessed events was the Feast of Tabernacles. God had inspired Herbert to hold this feast which, in reality, was one week long, in Gladewater, Texas. To facilitate accommodations for the faithful, he bought several hundred acres down there and commanded one and all to mosey on down, rent motels or camp out on his property in tents for a week.
Two per day sermons were the usual bill of fare at this celebration, but other than that the congregation was, for the most part left to its own devices, which was just as well; for if ever a crew was in need of a break, it was them.
Herbert had many new revelations in the fifties. A polio epidemic was sweeping Canada and North America, at this time. A highly successful vaccine had been developed. It was being made available in nearly every school to protect young children who were often left dead or paralyzed for life by the grisly disease. Herbert, though, instructed the, by now international, flock not to have their children immunized. To do so, he said, would be tantamount to placing ones faith in the medical profession rather than God.
As the flock continued to grow, there were those members who, quite naturally, desired either to divorce their present spouses or, having already been divorced prior to conversion, re-marry. “A thorough, heart-rending study of scripture(with much prayer and fasting) yielded but one conclusion,” Herbert said. “Divorce and re-marriage has been, is, and will always continue to be against Gods law.”
Members who had been divorced prior to baptism were instructed to seek reconciliation with their former mates, whether they were in the church or not. Failing that, they were to remain celibate until the end of their natural lives or the death of their former spouse, whichever came first. Members who had, prior to baptism, been divorced and remarried were commanded to separate and, unless and until their original mate died, they were to remain separate.
Herbert’s inspirations from God ranged far and wide over even the most prosaic matters of a member’s life. Women were commanded not to wear lipstick or rouge; perfumes were out of the question, and modest (which is to say, exceptionally dowdy) attire was the watchword. Women who wore such abominations as any of the above were likened to Jezebel.
A woman’s place was in the home; God had made that plain to his servant from the outset. God had created women to be help-meets (or help-meats, if one chose to be definitive about the subject). Their role was to cook, clean, wash dishes, clothes and the toilet, change dirty diapers and nearly worship at the feet of and submit to the sexual demands of their god-given mate, at any time day or night.
Children were to be in total submission at all time and to address as “Sir” or “Ma’am” any human being more than five years older than themselves. That such obedience was not a native aspect of the typical three and four year old’s character was soon evident and members were sternly exhorted from the pulpit that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him… or her”. Corporal punishment was, thus, heartily approved of; and because it was often brutal in its application, it was ultimately destructive in its results.
As the sixties rolled on into the seventies, the membership (and therefore the cash flow) of the organization began to decline precipitously. This, as a direct function of the doctrine presented by Herbert. The reason was, as research at AC amply demonstrated, quite simple. By that decade, a large majority of adults had been divorced and remarried at least once. And of that majority destined to remain single if they joined Herbert’s merry throng, the prospect of having to pole-vault out of bed each morning for the rest of their lives was less than appealing.
Herbert retired to his inner sanctum to study, pray and fast about the matter and (in record time)God revealed that he had decided to cut humanity some slack and that divorce, as long as it occurred prior to baptism, was now permissible.
With the barriers down, hundreds of would-be pilgrims to the promised land swelled the thinning ranks of the called and chosen, and the tithes and offerings began to flow once more.
Herbert, largely retired from the day to day running of the outfit at this time, and turned it over to his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, who legalized the wearing of makeup for all closet Jezebels. He liberalized so many hitherto “carved-in-stone” tenants that his aging father was obliged, at the shrill insistence of the rest of the ministry, to park his Grumman Golf Stream Jet and return to headquarters.
Upon his return, he was presented with unassailable data that, during Garner Ted’s tenure, and due to his multiple dalliances with help-meets other than his own, the term “Headquarters” had taken on a whole new meaning. After a flurry of meetings with the ministerial hierarchy, Theodore was sacked and the aging prophet once again assumed the weighty burden of apostleship.
Within a few years, his cardiovascular system began to fail and it was, at this time that the Lord providentially revealed to him that, by now, it was okay and quite alright for the laity (and even Herbert, if he so chose) to avail themselves of medical care. Herbert promptly arranged for twenty-four hour, around the clock, medical personnel in the form of a doctor and registered nurse to be at his constant beck and call.
Upon his death, the called and chosen (ministry and laity, alike) engaged in a power struggle so acrimonious that it tore the organization into many small and warring fragments. It has, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist.
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